Identity theft, debt collection, and payday loans top list of consumer fraud complaints

Identity theft led the list of top consumer complaints in 2013, with US consumers reporting that they lost over $1.6 billion to various types of fraud, reports the Federal Trade Commission.

Rebecca Swiller / The Christian Science Monitor / File
Of the 2 million consumer complaints that the Federal Trade Commission received last year, about 14 percent were related to identity theft, the FTC said.

The seemingly intractable problem of identity theft led the list of top consumer complaints once again in 2013, with US consumers reporting that they lost over $1.6 billion to various types of fraud, the Federal Trade Commission said in a report released on Thursday.

Of the 2 million consumer complaints that the commission received last year, 290,056, or about 14 percent, were related to identity theft, the FTC said.

"This (identify theft) has topped the list since at least 2006," said David Torok, director of the FTC's Division of Planning and Information.

Identity thieves can make purchases on credit cards they do not own, make withdrawals from a victim's bank account or take out loans in the victim's name, among other kinds of fraud.

Florida had the highest per capita rate of fraud, with 804.9 people reporting a problem out of every 100,000 in population, the FTC said in its report for 2013. North Dakota had the lowest rate of reported fraud.

The average victim lost $2,294, according to the FTC, which said that 61 percent of those defrauded in 2013 put a dollar value on their losses.

A total of 43 percent of fraud victims were reached through email, while 21 percent were telephoned and another 20 percent were defrauded through a website, the FTC said.

And the winner is ... identity fraud!

While identity fraud was the top source of consumer complaints at 14 percent in 2013, debt collection (10 percent) was second. Complaints were such things as a collector either tried to collect a debt that was not owed, harassed a debtor or made false statements about debt.

Another 7 percent of complaints were related to banks and lenders, such as payday loan problems or unexpected overdraft charges. Imposter scams, such as people claiming to be from the government and demanding payment of a debt that does not exist, accounted for 6 percent of the reported fraud cases.

Complaints about telephone and mobile services were also at 6 percent each, including such problems as unexpected charges on mobile or phone bills.

Rounding out the top 10 consumer complaints were: concerns about prizes and lotteries (4 percent); auto-related complaints (4 percent); shop-at-home and catalog sales (3 percent); television and electronic media (3 percent) and advance payment for credit services (2 percent).

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